Verdict on Bangladesh 2001 bombings delayed

Group accused of targeting secular Bengali New Year in which 10 people were killed.

    Verdict on Bangladesh 2001 bombings delayed
    Harkat-ul Jihad al Islami leader Mufti Abdul Hannan (right) was among the accused [AFP]

    A Bangladeshi court has delayed its verdict against a group of Islamic fighters accused of carrying out a 2001 bomb attack on the main Bengali New Year celebrations which killed 10 people.

    Nine of the 14 accused were in the dock amid tight security at the court in the capital, Dhaka, when Judge Ruhul Amin announced he would now hand down his verdict next Monday, saying he "needed more time", according to the AFP news agency.

    Prosecutors accuse fighters, including the head of the outlawed Harkat-ul-Jihad al Islami (HuJI) outfit, of targeting the popular secular celebrations in Dhaka's main park which they deemed offensive to Islam.

    However, defence lawyers say the accused only admitted to the attacks after confessions were forced on them during the police interrogation.

    "My clients are only named in the case because Mufti Hannan mentioned their names in his confessional statements," defence lawyer Idi Amin told AFP. "But he himself later retracted his confessional statement, saying it was taken by coercion."

    Five at large

    The bombings were allegedly among a series of other attacks carried out by the HuJI head Mufti Abdul Hannan and his group, which also attempted to kill Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina when she was opposition leader in 2004.

    Religious schools rise in Bangladesh

    After eight years of investigation and another five years of protracted trial, the lower court last month set the case for verdict for June 16 with prosecutors seeking the death penalty for each of the 14 accused.

    "We hope the court will sentence them to death," prosecutor SM Zahid Hossain said before Monday's hearing. "The court must send a message that this kind of heinous act won't be tolerated in the country," Hossain added.

    Five of the accused are still at large and are believed to have fled abroad. Of the remainder, Hannan and two others have confessed their involvement in the plot in statements made to magistrates.

    The Bengali New Year, celebrated on April 14, is the most important secular festival for the 155 million ethnic Bengalis in Muslim-majority Bangladesh.

    Hossain said the group targeted the celebration because they considered it "un-Islamic and against Sharia" law, and viewed the traditional singing and dancing performed as "obscene" and also wanted to undermine the secular government.

    Police also accuse the group of trying to blow up courts and other secular institutions, as well as Sufi shrines and a church.



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